As part of the Strategic Partnership between the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the Veteran-centred model was developed in 2018 and supports the person-centred approach to understanding the experiences and outcomes of Australian’s veterans and their families (AIHW 2018b).
The term ‘veteran’ has been used in a variety of ways, ranging from describing former Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel who were deployed to serve in war or war-like environments to more recently describing people who have any experience in the ADF including permanent, reserve, and former (ex-serving) personnel (Tehan 2017).
The Veteran-centred model is made up of seven domains across the health and welfare sector: Health, Housing, Social support, Education and skills, Employment, Income and finance, and Safety and justice (Figure 1). The domains in the model can be monitored in the context of individual factors, influences of the community and environment, and social determinants of health and wellbeing. More information on the veteran-centred model is available from the Development of a Veteran-centred model: a working paper.
Figure 1: The Veteran-centred model
To date, AIHW has used this model to inform the AIHW’s veterans analysis work program, with analysis predominantly exploring the Health and Housing domains. Through data linkage, analysis of four additional domains has been undertaken to investigate factors that influence the wellbeing of ex-serving ADF members and their families, including the Education and skills, Employment, Income and finance, and Social support domains. These domains align closely with high-level wellbeing factors currently in use by DVA, as described in their Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and National Action Plan 2020-2023.
This data integration project was funded by DVA as part of the Strategic Partnership work program and aims to describe the wellbeing status of ex-serving ADF members and their family members against domains in the Veteran-centred model. It is one of the first data integration projects to use Linkage Spine Interoperability (von Sanden 2020) that enables the Department of Defence (Defence) personnel data held at AIHW to be combined with data held at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) from the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) data asset without the need to share personal identifying information between each organisation. Linkage Spine Interoperability increases efficiency in creating integrated data products between two agencies, reduces risks of sharing personal information, and facilitates better use of person-centred data enabling the expansion of research to be undertaken (PMC 2022).
Both the AIHW and ABS are accredited Integrating Authorities, being responsible for ensuring data integration projects are conducted in sound, ethically approved and secure ways, and that researchers are provided safe and secure access to the integrated data. This data integration project was approved by both the AIHW Ethics Committee and Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs Human Research Ethics Committee (DDVA HREC).
The ABS is trusted as the accredited Integrating Authority for MADIP. The ABS collects and combines the data, provides access to authorised researchers, and protects individual privacy and keeps the information available in MADIP secure at all times. More information on MADIP is available from the ABS website.
The main source of data for this report was the 2016 Census of Population and Housing (Census) data available from the MADIP data asset. The 2016 Census has been used in this analysis to provide baseline information about the wellbeing of ex-serving ADF members. Future work will investigate the wellbeing of ex-serving ADF members in the 2021 Census as well as other datasets in the MADIP and will provide insights into how the situation has changed over time. MADIP is a secure data asset which combines data from various government agencies on health, education, government payments, income and taxation, employment, and population demographics (including the Census) over time.
For each domain, the demographic and wellbeing characteristics of ex-serving members and their families (spouses and children) have been explored by sex and age, with comparisons with the Australian population provided for context. Further breakdowns by service characteristics at the time of separation from the ADF have been analysed to understand the relationship and possible impacts serving in the ADF has on a veteran’s and their families wellbeing. Defence personnel data provides insights based on various service characteristics including:
- Service (Navy, Army, Air Force)
- Rank (Commissioned Officers, and Other Ranks)
- Overall length of service (less than 1 year, between 1 year and less than 5 years, between 5 years and less than 10 years, and 10 years or more)
- Time since separation (less than 1 year, between 1 year and less than 5 years, between 5 years and less than 10 years, and 10 years or more. The reference point for the time since separation is up until 31 December 2015)
- Last reason for separation from the ADF is also included in its own section and represents the reason recorded for leaving the last engagement with the ADF.
There are some limitations to both the data and analyses in this report. Only a small range of service characteristics were available for analyses, so it was not possible to examine the associations between occupations within the military or deployments and wellbeing in post-service life. Also, the Census only obtains data from those who were in Australia on Census night, so those ex-serving ADF members who were not in Australia were not able to be linked to Census. There are also instances where there is insufficient information on a person’s Census record to allow their record to be linked. Additionally, small counts limited the analyses that could be conducted in some cases.
This report is based on ex-serving ADF members who had served at least one day of service on or after 1 January 2001 and were ex-serving as at 31 December 2015 to ensure they were ex-serving, alive and aged 17 years or over at the time of the 2016 Census.
Of these 88,100 ex-serving ADF members, over 4 in 5 (83%) linked to the 2016 Census which resulted in an in-scope population of 72,700 ex-serving ADF members for this report.
Of the ex-serving ADF members represented in the MADIP linked data, 84% were males and 16% were females. The age structure for the ex-serving ADF members was different to the Australian population with a higher proportion aged between 25–44 and lower proportions aged 17–24 and over 55 years (Figure 2). Consequently, adjustments for age (aged-standardised) have been undertaken, where possible, for all analyses that compare ADF members to the Australian population. Data comparisons between different service characteristics have not been age-standardised due to small cell counts. As the age differences between the different service characteristics are not large, this does not alter the comparisons except where specifically stated.
Figure 2: Age distribution of populations in 2016